Many people associate the beginning of the school year and the advent of fall with the start of football season. Few would realize that the men’s tennis team has already begun doing work, as it has kick-started its preseason play this past weekend.
Starting on Sept. 16, the team participated in the Olympia Fields Country Club Fighting Illini Invitational. Six total teams were invited to compete in the meet, including Texas, Alabama, Notre Dame, Kentucky and host Illinois.
Four members of Cal’s team — Nick Andrews, Riki McLachlan, Ben McLachlan and Carlos Cueto — partook in what assistant coach Tyler Browne deemed a “great tune up tournament” which allowed them to focus on improving their individual play.
The players flew out to Olympia Fields, a suburb of Chicago, on Wednesday morning for the tournament that began on Friday.
A circumstance that could have significantly affected the Bears’ performance was the fact that the tournament was played on clay courts. All players in attendance have at some point played on clay, but are not extremely experienced on it considering that the team never practices on it.
“Clay courts are a little bit different, you have to play a bit different, but it was a great opportunity for our guys,” Browne said.
To ensure a more equal playing field, the foursome found it beneficial to fly out early in order to get used to these unique conditions. Fortunately for the players, they performed well despite their strange environment. If anything, the change was beneficial. The tournament really served as a learning experience for the crew.
“There are a lot of areas of their game that got exposed and now they know what they need to work on,” Browne said.
On the first day of play, Cal went undefeated in doubles matches. Andrews and Riki McLachlan paired up in a doubles match, defeating duos from both Illinois and Texas. Cueto and Ben McLachlan also competed as a doubles team, successfully vanquishing two teams from Illinois, with scores of 9-7 and 8-1, respectively.
Andrews made great strides throughout the weekend.
Despite going an unassuming 2-2 in singles matches, he played one of the most exciting matches of the tournament for the Bears on Saturday. Andrews faced and triumphed over Casey Watt of Notre Dame.
“Nick’s win over the 28th-ranked player was great for him because he was ranked 45th,” Browne said. “All the guys had a couple of nice wins.”
In the fourth round, Kentucky’s 20th-ranked Alex Musialek came out victorious in a tough matchup with Andrews, despite his battling to bring the tilt to a third set.
Ben McLachlan went 3-1 in singles and 2-0 in doubles, showing the best record of any Cal player in attendance.
Despite wins on Friday, Cueto lost in the second round of singles play on Saturday to No. 7 Dennis Nevolo of Illinois and did not return to compete in the rest of the tournament. Due to inclement weather on Sunday, the final rounds of doubles were canceled and the fourth round of singles was played on inside courts. Ben McLachlan earned the only win for the Bears in the round.
“(The tournament) was great way to start the year off,” Browne said. “The experience was amazing. All the guys learned something.”